This week’s installment of the BBC’s Doctor Who is titled “Listen.” The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) has a theory that something lurks in the dark, the universe’s perfect race of hiders. Embarking on a quest with Clara (Jenna Coleman) to find them, the two are confronted with the pasts of a couple of individuals, including Clara’s new beau, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). But they never quite find out whether The Doctor is right.
“Listen” is probably the scariest Doctor Who episode since “Blink,” which introduced us to the Weeping Angels. Written by series creator Steven Moffat, it ruminates on what lurks just beneath everyone’s notice, making this creature-of-the-week hit home. The story The Doctor tells, of a dream featuring something under the bed, is something every person watching can relate to. When Moffat brings the terror right into our own bedrooms, it evokes a primal fear that lands in a way fighting monsters in space and on alien worlds just doesn’t do.
It’s also one of the best stand-alone episodes in recent memory. I use them ‘stand-alone’ label loosely because there are a lot of connections to other Doctor Who episodes and continuity within the hour. But it can be enjoyed without knowing all that other stuff, as a story unto itself. Personally, I prefer large arcs and serial tales over case-of-the-week stuff, but it’s hard to argue with quality as strong as “Listen” exhibits, and if Doctor Who should become completely procedural with every installment on par with this one, I would still count myself a loyal fan and viewer.
The way the threads of “Listen” are worked together is nothing short of brilliant. There are lots of aspects, Clara on her first date with Danny, The Doctor and Clara visiting Danny as a boy (Remi Gooding), The Doctor and Clara meeting Danny’s grandson, Orson Pink (also played by Anderson), at the end of the universe, Clara calming The Doctor as a child, but they all tie together well, even without the monster. “Listen” crafts a cohesive vision of these three players and their interactions, setting up Danny to play a larger role this season, and cementing Clara’s place as The Doctor’s most important companion ever.
I admit, I do not like Clara all that much, my least favorite companion since Martha Jones. However, there is no denying that she is vital to the entire lifetime of The Doctor, not just the current and previous incarnations. She has traveled through time and encountered all his versions. She now is shown to have influenced him before he really becomes a Time Lord, saying words to him that will be (were?) echoed by the First Doctor near the start of the series. When she eventually leaves The Doctor’s side, it will be the end of a huge era, even if she doesn’t stay much longer, and no one else is likely to fill those kind of shoes anytime soon.
I’m guessing the seeds for Clara’s departure are already being planted. Doctor Who pushes her towards Danny quite strongly this week. Their date is disastrous, yet they keep coming back together. She has an instant bond with both the young version of him and his grandson, who seems to be holding something back from her. Might Clara soon be staying with Danny and becoming Orson’s grandmother? I don’t think she and Danny could have kept coming back together, much as they were screwing up their conversation, if they didn’t have a very solid, unspeakable bond. Not all of The Doctor’s companions have left on such peaceful, happy terms of late, and I think it’s time one did. Clara has served well on the battlefield, and it might be time to take an early retirement.
The Doctor himself is examined this week. We know he doesn’t travel well alone, and his obsession with the ‘thing in the dark’ is an illustration of that. This is what he’s up to when no one else is around. It’s a weakness and a vulnerability that make the Time Lord all the more relatable and human. In his dire hour, we see his mettle and how important his companions are to him. They allow him to get past the fear and persistently looming insanity and do the good things that he does.
I am slightly disappointed that we don’t find out about the creature. Surely it’s real, given the scenes with the young Danny Pink. Yet, later, when Clara talks to the boy Doctor, it seems like it’s not. I could have used just a bit more clarification here, but the fact that Doctor Who doesn’t answer those questions only leaves the menace the monster poses greater and more relevant, scary in its lack of explanation.
The one unnecessary thing in “Listen” may be the glimpse of the War Doctor (John Hurt) returning to the barn where Clara meets the boy Doctor. Yet, that moment will surely make fans happy, providing even more connection to past events and faces.
“Listen” is an excellent script with as-usual compelling performances by the show’s leads. It’s a fine addition to the favorite Doctor Who episodes list, and one not soon forgotten.
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00NI2ELWU][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00GO95TAC]